How-To Make Sense of Food Expiration Dates
BEST IF USED BY, SELL BY, USE BY. It can get so confusing when it comes to expiration dates. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that common sense goes a long way. The only expiration dates that the Food and Drug Administration regulates are baby formula dates. Everything else is a guideline. Combined with your common sense, you should be able to determine whether or not to throw out food. Moldy food. Slimy food. Food that smells bad. If you have to question it, you should discard it.
Here is helpful expiration date information from the United States Department of Agriculture.
BEST IF USED BY (or BEFORE) is a date that refers to the taste and texture, not for purchase or safety.
SELL BY is the date that tells a store how long to display a product for sale on the shelf. If you see a product with an expired SELL BY date on a store shelf, you should not buy it.
USE BY is a recommendation for the last date to use the product while at peak quality.
Another thing to keep in mind is storage times. Always purchase a product before the date expires. If you buy perishable products, you should refrigerate the food as soon as possible. And if you freeze a perishable product, remember that once frozen, foods kept frozen continuously are safe indefinitely even if the date expires.
And when it comes to expiration dates, you must take responsibility for the handling of food products. Even if a product date has not expired, if food products are mishandled cross contamination and foodborne bacteria can result in products no longer being safe for consumption.